CenterNetworks http://www.centernetworks.com Web 2 and Social Media News and Reviews Mon, 09 Apr 2012 23:35:51 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v= Which Is The Better Deal? http://www.centernetworks.com/better-deal-livingsocial-groupon http://www.centernetworks.com/better-deal-livingsocial-groupon#comments Mon, 09 Apr 2012 23:35:51 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20572

One of the things I’ve noticed as I browse Groupon and LivingSocial is that there are a number of deals that appear on both of the deal sites simultaneously. One of the local pizzerias seems to show up with the same deal on LivingSocial’s food “takeout and delivery” section and the Groupon Now! section at the same time.

From my research, the most popular nationwide deal appearing on both deal services is from Vistaprint. Usually the deals vary ever so slightly. For the balance of today, there are deals running on both sites – you can see an image of each below. The Groupon Vistaprint deal is available in the Little Rock section and the LivingSocial Vistaprint deal is available in the St. Louis section.

The deals are:

  • Groupon: $17 for $70 at Vistaprint
  • LivingSocial: $10 for $50 at Vistaprint

Doing some simple math on my calculator, the LS deal works out slightly better. It’s important to note that Vistaprint changes their pricing when you come in via Groupon/LS so the prices you see on the general website will be lower than from a deal voucher.

The key take away from this post is that some simple searching on both services may find you an even better deal than the one you are currently considering.

vistaprint on groupon and livingsocial

 

 


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Groupon Adds Kids-Friendly Kidz Club Channel http://www.centernetworks.com/groupon-adds-kids-friendly-kidz-club-channel http://www.centernetworks.com/groupon-adds-kids-friendly-kidz-club-channel#comments Mon, 09 Apr 2012 13:17:47 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20568

Last week deal site Groupon launched a Dream Weddings channel. Today it looks like they have added another channel — a “kid-friendly club”. The new Groupon Kidz Club features deals that are either geared towards kids or are kid-friendly. Each city appears to have a couple of local deals including test prep and photography services along with a large number of national deals. For example, the most popular company on the deal sites, Vistaprint makes an appearance on the kid-friendly deals list.

Frankly I can’t figure out by the tone of the content (outside of the deals) if this could be a late April Fools joke. Groupon has created several personalities within the Kidz Club including: Glasses, Blade, FopTop, Roll, E-Male, Pyles and Swarmy.

The Kids Club features games like “help roll get his croissant back” and a word scramble. These games aren’t online, I assume you need to print out the page and give it to your kids.  There is also content including, “HELP elderly folks cross the first part of the street and then encourage them to get across the rest of the way on their own!” There is also an official Kidz Club theme song.

I don’t get all of the (probably very expensive) content Groupon creates — from this sillyness to the “extra” content they post at the bottom of their deal pages. Just post the deals and move on to posting more deals.


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Startup Recruiting Event RoundUp for Startups Coming to Dallas http://www.centernetworks.com/startup-recruiting-event-dallas http://www.centernetworks.com/startup-recruiting-event-dallas#comments Sat, 07 Apr 2012 02:03:56 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20565

roundup for startupsIf you are looking for a job at a startup located in Dallas, you should check out the RoundUp for Startups event later this month. The free startup recruiting event will be held on April 21, 2012 from 4-8 pm at Deep Ellum Brewing Company in Dallas, Texas. The evening is broken up into two segments:

  • 4-6 pm: social recruiting and networking
  • 6-8 pm: a band will jam while attendees network over food and drinks

Over forty startups located in the Dallas area will be attending the event recruiting for over 100 positions. The organizers describe the event as, “…open to everyone that is interested in joining growing and young technology and startup companies, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals. If you are a software/hardware/network/equipment/test/QA engineer, software programmers/developer, user interface and user experience (UI/UX) specialist, web/mobile designer, system administrator, project manager, or technical designer, this is your chance for a great career move. If your speciality is sales and marketing or business development, and you want to work with the next great North Texas startup, this is your chance to get involved. If you have a passion for what you do and are looking for a fulfilling position at an exciting young company, don’t miss this event!”

As a Giants fan, I’ve been told I am banned from entering the city limits of Dallas. But for the few of you out there that aren’t Giants fans, this looks like a great opportunity to network and potentially grab a job at a Texas-based startup.


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Web Jobs – April 6 http://www.centernetworks.com/web-jobs-april-6 http://www.centernetworks.com/web-jobs-april-6#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2012 14:18:23 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20558

web jobsDon’t be an April Fool…check out some of the latest web technology and business jobs posted for April 6, 2012 on the CenterNetworks Job Board. Subscribe to the CN Jobs feed and get all of the latest Web industry jobs delivered directly to you.

Featured Jobs:

More Jobs:

Employers – Join other top companies on the CN Job Board. Post your jobs today – only $10!


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Amazon Offers Free First Episode of 100+ TV Shows Free http://www.centernetworks.com/amazon-offers-free-episode-100-tv-shows-free http://www.centernetworks.com/amazon-offers-free-episode-100-tv-shows-free#comments Tue, 03 Apr 2012 19:10:28 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20554

AmazonAmazon has announced that as part of their streaming video launch on the PS3, they are offering the ability to view the first episode of over 100 television series for free. The free watching period runs for a week from today unless you have an Amazon Prime account which will allow you to watch the full seasons of each show for free.

Some of the series you can watch the first episode for free include:

  • Storage Wars (Dave Hester is the man!)
  • The Office UK
  • Hawaii Five-O
  • NCIS Season 1
  • Pawn Stars
  • Parking Wars (you best park correctly in Philly!)
  • Shipping Wars
  • Project Runway
  • The A-Team Season 1 (BA!)

Amazon notes that “Instant Video” is also available on the Kindle Fire, Roku, televisions, Blu-ray players, and set-top boxes.

View all of the series here.

Note: Amazon free series link is an aff link.


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Amazon Local Offers 10 Minute Head Start in a Marathon for $29 http://www.centernetworks.com/amazon-local-marathon-april-fools http://www.centernetworks.com/amazon-local-marathon-april-fools#comments Sun, 01 Apr 2012 16:00:08 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20550

amazon localAs I work on getting in great shape, today’s Amazon Local deal really appealed to me. And as a deal hunter, I’ve seen thousands and thousands of deals from every segment you can imagine. From gun permit training to lingerie to Hawaiian vacations, I’ve seen it all. Or at least I thought I have until I found today’s deal on Amazon Local!

Just imagine this… you want to win a marathon – 26 miles of running, knocking people over to take their spot, hoping you can beat some guy or girl from another country and bring the belt back home to the USA. You trained, you said your prayers, you took your vitamins (brother!) and you are ready. But inevitably you will get a high number and start way back in the pack and have no real chance of making it to the finish line in first place. So instead you head to McDonalds for a 20 piece mcnugget and a large fry.

The good news is that now Amazon Local will put you in the front of the pack – for a fee of course. For just $29, Amazon Local will guarantee you get to start ahead of all of the “professional runners” in the Beantown Marathon. They note that if you pay the $29 you can, “take the last few weeks of training off and still achieve a personal best time”. Purchasing this deal gets you a 10 minute head start! That’s only $2.9 per minute!

The unfortunate thing is that at the time of this post, nearly 58,000 people have purchased the deal. So my guess is that you will be behind all of the other deal hunters but you will still get a 10 minute head start over the non-payers.

Lastly, if you finish the race on foot (you cannot take public transport!), Amazon will give you bowls of chili and beer.

I am so glad I made my purchase before they sell out! What are you waiting for?

note: obviously this is an april fools joke from amazon local!


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Amazon Offers Refurbished Kindle Fire for $139 http://www.centernetworks.com/amazon-refurbished-kindle-fire http://www.centernetworks.com/amazon-refurbished-kindle-fire#comments Thu, 29 Mar 2012 10:30:32 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20546

Kindle FireLast December I noted that there was a deal for the Kindle Fire that made it the best day to-date for buying an Amazon Kindle Fire. Today’s deal makes that deal look like child’s play. Today only, Amazon is offering refurbished Kindle Fire devices for $139! The deal is the Gold Box deal of the day and Amazon notes that supplies are limited. If you want a Kindle Fire, today is the best day to become an owner of the 7″ tablet.

You can read the full explanation about the refubished Kindle Fire devices on Amazon’s website. Here are the important bits:

Prior to sale, every pre-owned Kindle undergoes a rigorous refurbishment process including:

  • Full diagnostic test
  • Replacement of any defective parts identified in testing
  • Thorough cleaning and inspection process
  • Complete repackaging with a new box
  • Most recent software version update available for the product.
  • Final QA inspection before acceptance as Certified Refurbished stock.

The refurb Kindle devices have the same return policy as the new devices and come with the same warranty. You also get the free one month of Prime as well.

I have purchased multiple refurb laptops from Dell and a refurb iPod from Apple and all three devices look brand new and have been just as reliable. What I generally don’t trust refurbs from third-party companies, this Kindle deal is direct from Amazon so you know they will stand behind the device should anything go wrong.

(note: Kindle Fire link is an aff link to Amazon)


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Groupon Adds Dream Weddings Channel http://www.centernetworks.com/groupon-dream-weddings http://www.centernetworks.com/groupon-dream-weddings#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 13:22:04 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20544

grouponOver the past year, both Living Social and Groupon have been adding new channels within their services. Living Social has been rapidly expanding their Gourmet and Home channels. I’ve noticed Groupon pumping their Goods channel heavily as of late. While most of the products in their Goods section seem to be closeouts or products that probably didn’t sell so well in retail, they seem to be selling like hotcakes on Groupon.

We’ve seen people who got married using Groupon and let’s not forget Greg’s proposal to Dana on Groupon last year. Today I noticed Groupon is pushing a full channel for weddings.  Interestingly the url doesn’t contain weddings but rather occasions so I wonder if Groupon will launch deal centers for other occasions.

The local wedding deals listed include (your deals may vary by location) tanning and salon services. Most of the page offers nationwide deals including name change services, engagement rings, wedding gowns, photography services, wedding invitations and of course the most critical honeymoon in Morocco or a safari in Africa.

Even though I am a huge deal hunter, I can’t imagine using a deal site for my wedding. Maybe invitations or other basics but would I want to worry that the honeymoon might not be absolutely perfect to save a few dollars?


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Shark Tank Recap – March 23 http://www.centernetworks.com/shark-tank-recap-march-23-deal http://www.centernetworks.com/shark-tank-recap-march-23-deal#comments Sat, 24 Mar 2012 13:17:24 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20540

shark tankBelow is a recap of the March 23, 2012 episode of the ABC show Shark Tank (episode 307). If you are unfamiliar with Shark Tank, the concept is simple – entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of investors and the investors have to provide at least the amount the entrepreneur is seeking for a deal to be completed.

The sharks appearing on tonight’s episode are: Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Damond John and Robert Herjavec.

(apologies for the delay in posting this recap, my area didn’t air the show last night so I had to wait for the web version)

Don’t forget to check out our previous Shark Tank recaps.

Pitch #1 -The Ave

Nick Romero pitched his custom store seeking $125k for 15% of The Ave. Nick’s shop allows customers the ability to create custom clothing in minutes. The items include shirts, hats, sneakers in the store using images provided by customers. Nick’s printing process is patented and Nick suggests that people of all ages create products in his shop. He is looking to expand The Ave into a nationwide chain of stores. Shoes cost $28 for the shoes plus the custom printing. To-date the store generated $570k in sales and $150k in profit. The printers cost $55,000 and are patented.

Unfortunately Nick left with no deal.

Shark Tank Update – Ride On Carry On

Barbara signed a deal last season with the Ride On Carry On team. Before Shark Tank, their sales were $40k, in the six months after their episode aired, sales of the baby carrier has grown to $500k.

Pitch #2 – BarkEm’s

Blake St Clair was seeking $100k for 51% stake in Barkem’s, a mobile pet food container. Basically it’s a tv dinner for pets – Bark’ems is a way to easily feed your dog on the go. You pop the tv dinner into your bag and then when it is time to feed the dog, you pop out the Bark’ems and the dog enjoys the food. Barkem’s comes in three sizes: small, medium and large depending on the size of your dog. Mark Cuban called it a, “lunchable for dogs”. Kevin O’Leary questioned why a dog owner wouldn’t just put the food in a bag. Mark really liked the idea and could see pet food companies filling the product with food for sale. One important clarification, the deal is ONLY for the plastic case, not the food.

Unfortunately Blake left without a deal.

Pitch #3 -Brewer’s Cow

Steve Albert and his partners were seeking $125k for 15% of the Brewer’s Cow ice cream. The idea of the product is to combine beer and a premium ice cream. And in case you were wondering, the alcohol is removed during the ice cream process. Been in business for a year and sold $5,000 in ice cream after production. The team signed a small, initial deal with Whole Foods to put 50 cartons of the beercream into a store (this was a bit confusing as to the total value of the WF deal during the presentation).

Unfortunately the team left without a deal.

Pitch #4 – Go Go Gear

Go Go Gear is a product line focused on motorcycle enthusiasts. Desirée Estrada and her partner were asking for $300k investment for 15% equity. The clothing line offers fully protective gear for those who ride motorcycles and scooters.  The clothing is fashionable and not like a typical motorcycle jacket. Sales of the line last year were $172k. The team said that their plan is to enter Europe and the sharks hammered the pair of entrepreneurs that it was the absolute wrong strategy. Mark Cuban explained that you must babysit a business during the initial stages and you can’t go overseas out of the gate.

The sharks bashed the Go Go Gear team on their $2 million valuation. The two entrepreneurs came back with a new offer of $300k for 50% of Go Go Gear. The team moved the equity percentage to 65% for a $300k investment. Robert and Damond wanted to come together on a deal but at the end, Robert went out. At the last minute, Damond shook hands on a deal for $300k for 65% of the company. Pretty amazing how in under an hour, Go Go Gear moved from $300k/15% to $300k for 65%.


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Some Good Austin Startup Resources & Upcoming Events http://www.centernetworks.com/austin-startup-resources http://www.centernetworks.com/austin-startup-resources#comments Fri, 23 Mar 2012 14:14:35 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20537

Austin PostcardNow that SXSW is over and after you have spent a few days in Austin, you may want to continue to follow the tech startup happenings around the Austin area. Here are several resources that are worth checking out:

Silicon Hills – a blog covering technology news in Austin and San Antonio. The articles aren’t organized by date so you need to scroll to find other stories that might be newer than the first article.

Austin Startup – their tagline is, “Ditch the Valley. Run for the Hills.” Of all of the Austin resources I follow, theirs is the most regularly updated (nearly daily).

Bootstrap Austin – a blog about startup news and events in Austin. It’s not updated very often but their Twitter feed is updated on a daily basis.

Upcoming Events:

RISE has a full week of sessions next week – the sessions are located all around the city and are almost all free. Check out the sessions list and make sure you check out the sessions for each day (I’d guess there are 150-200 sessions).

Startup Weekend is coming back to Austin from March 30-April 1. The events will be held at HubAustin Coworking and costs $75-99. The final startup demos on Sunday evening are free to attend.


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Web Jobs – March 19 http://www.centernetworks.com/web-jobs-march-19 http://www.centernetworks.com/web-jobs-march-19#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 01:52:26 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20535

web jobsCheck out some of the latest web technology and business jobs posted for March 19, 2012 on the CenterNetworks Job Board. Subscribe to the CN Jobs feed and get all of the latest Web industry jobs delivered directly to you.

Featured Jobs:

More Jobs:

Employers – Join other top companies on the CN Job Board. Post your jobs today – only $10!


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Shark Tank Recap – March 16 http://www.centernetworks.com/shark-tank-recap-march-16 http://www.centernetworks.com/shark-tank-recap-march-16#comments Sat, 17 Mar 2012 01:00:33 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20532

shark tankBelow is a recap of the March 16, 2012 episode of the ABC show Shark Tank (episode 307). If you are unfamiliar with Shark Tank, the concept is simple – entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of investors and the investors have to provide at least the amount the entrepreneur is seeking for a deal to be completed.

The sharks appearing on tonight’s episode are: Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Damond John and Robert Herjavec.

Don’t forget to check out our previous Shark Tank recaps.

Pitch #1 -Tower Paddleboards

Stephan Aarstol was first up into the tank with his bikini model to pitch Tower Paddleboards. Stephan was seeking $150k for 10% equity in his company. He lost himself in the pitch – luckily Damond brought him back. Tower Paddleboards is a brand of standup paddleboards. Stephan explained that his strength is internet marketing and he owns 3 out of the 4 top Google slots for “standup paddleboards”. Barbara said Stephan was the worst presenter she’s ever seen. The company has $100k sales in 4 months – all online.

Kevin O’Leary offered Stephan $150k for 50% but Stephan declined Kevin’s offer. Mark suggested that this business was setup to flip and Mark offered $150k for 30% but Mark wants first chance to invest in future companies that Stephan creates. Kevin came back with $150k for 25% and in the end Stephan accepted Mark Cuban’s offer.

Shark Tank Update – Readerest Magnetic Glasses Holder

I don’t even need to talk about the update – I wrote about it as soon as the product hit QVC!  The Readerest magnetic glasses holder signed a deal with Lori Greiner earlier this season and then the next day they were live on QVC. Read my full post about the pitch and the day on QVC.

Pitch #2 – Instant Lifts

Next up was Nick and Penelope pitching Instant Lifts which are some clear tape with a formula to suck in areas on a women’s body to make them look good. They have $75k in sales in their first 4 months of operation. The issue from the sharks is that the duo has other products they are selling that are not part of the deal and the sharks worry that there won’t be enough time to make Instant Lifts successful.

Unfortunately Nick and Penelope left the tank with no deal. At least we learned the definition of Bingo Wings from Damond!

Pitch #3 – Vinamour

Gary DeJohn was up next with the Vinamour (the name may be spelled differently as it was never displayed on the screen) – a device you put in a wine glass to make the wine taste better using aeration. The Vinamour cuts overpouring costs for restaurants. Unfortunately Gary was unable to secure a deal with the sharks. Gary said in the endcap that he plans to sell the company in a year for $40 million and come back to laugh at them.

Pitch #4 – Miso Media

Last up was Miso Media and CEO Aviv Grill. I think this is the first company in the Shark Tank with a large venture capital round already ($3 million from various investors including Google Ventures. Miso Media won the Tech Crunch Disrupt 2010 SF Audience Choice Award. The company creates iPad apps for music education. Aviv was seeking $300k for 5% of the company.

I could be wrong but it appears that the show’s taping was before the $2.4 million Miso Media raised in September.

As of the time of the show’s taping, Miso Music, the first app has 35,000 downloads and $40,000 in sales.

Kevin offered $100k for 3.3% and Robert offered $300k for 10%, Aviv countered at $300k for 7%. Mark Cuban offered $300k for 8% and Aviv accepted.


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The Austin Convention Center Realizes the Importance of Usability http://www.centernetworks.com/austin-convention-center-usability http://www.centernetworks.com/austin-convention-center-usability#comments Thu, 15 Mar 2012 23:55:14 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20529

sxswWhenever I meet with startups to review their services and/or apps, I generally always stress the importance of usability. It’s so critical that a service be useable – both to keep current users and to have those same users recommend the service.

Since my first visit to Austin for SXSW many years ago, there was one thing I noticed that bugged me regarding usability at the Austin Convention Center. Lots of panels during SXSW are on the 3rd floor at the convention center but this floor and area is the hardest to get to. It’s obviously easy to get into the building on the first floor and there are lots of options to get to the 4th floor, but getting to this mysterious third floor was always odd. I am sure that if you have been to SXSW, you know what I am talking about.

To get to the third floor, there was just an escalator at the far end of the convention center or an elevator down that same hall. If you were coming into the building at the top end, it was just poor usability in the method needed to get to the third floor.

But there was always a simple fix – the huge double escalator from the first-to-fourth floors has a landing on the third floor but there is no path from the escalator to the third level. Why was it built like this? To torture people as they can see the third floor and it would be just a short hop across but yet there is no way to get across without fear of falling and a certain death?
My first few years at SXSW, I asked the convention center why no connection was built for something seemingly so obvious. The response was always that the architect designed the building this way. Design over usability – a fight I’ve seen and had more times than I can count.

Well it looks like finally usability has won! Look at the photos below. Finally the Austin convention center has added a 3 step cross over from the landing between the two escalators and the third floor! Praise the usability gods! Thousands of feet love the upgrade!

Would people use this crossover? I stood on the landing for 20 minutes and watched as countless people made the 3 step cross over – they probably have no idea the wonderfulness of this addon.

Obviously this is a long post for a simple usability upgrade. The next time someone questions you about adding or removing a function on your service or app for usability reasons, you reply, “the third floor crossover tells us to do it.”


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SXSW 2012 Expo Hall Photos http://www.centernetworks.com/sxsw-2012-expo-hall-photos http://www.centernetworks.com/sxsw-2012-expo-hall-photos#comments Tue, 13 Mar 2012 20:23:36 +0000 Allen Stern http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20527

sxsw 2012The interactive portion of SXSW 2012 is now signed, sealed and delivered. Based on foot and car traffic downtown, this was the largest attendance since I started coming to Austin 6 years ago. As always it was great to meet so many people I only speak with via email or social media. For the last two years, I’ve provided photos of the expo hall, and this year I bring you fresh photos in case you weren’t able to attend the conference. You can check out my 2011 and 2010 photos for comparison.

The expo hall continues to grow – my first year the expo hall was tiny and this year it was as large as most “trade show” conferences. The expo hall was heavy on the interactive side but is open for days that cross all three SXSW sections: film, music and interactive. I was disappointed not to see Izea with a booth – I think they have been here every year I’ve attended.

We begin our photo tour with a woman dressed up like an angry bird?

Sonicbids offered a place to sit and free bags

Shoutem teaches you how to create mobile apps and how to make a mess on the floor

Morphie sells battery packs to help you tweet longer

WordPress wants you to be happy so they offer a “Happiness Bar”

The Evernote booth was busy the entire time I was in the expo hall

No idea what this company does – mixtapes perhaps?

Keep it weird in Austin!

OtterBox had the largest setup

Nice to see Pond5 – I remember covering them way back in 2008 shortly after launch

FlareCode offers big balls

Capital Factory is an incubator located in Austin

YP offers a developer program using their data

Chevy cars were all over SXSW  – here is the Chevy Sonic – looks like a fake VW Golf


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First Impressions of Windows 8 http://www.centernetworks.com/windows-8 http://www.centernetworks.com/windows-8#comments Sun, 11 Mar 2012 14:39:59 +0000 Curtiss Grymala http://www.centernetworks.com/?p=20523

Windows 8A few days ago, I went ahead and installed the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. To say I’m impressed would be understating things a bit. As a Windows Phone 7 user for the last 16 or 17 months, I have become extremely familiar with the metro UI, and am overjoyed to see it coming to the desktop. The whole experience so far has actually inspired me to seriously consider buying a new touch-enabled PC (my current PC is over 5 years old at this point, so it’s probably time to update anyway).

What’s Right About Windows 8?

The new interface is inspired. It’s unique, and it’s easy to use. If you’re a long-time PC user, Windows 8 will require you to entirely rethink how you use your computer; but in a good way. No longer do you have a “Desktop” (well, you do, but it’s an app within Windows 8). Instead, you have a screen full of tiles that you click or tap to open applications. All of your applications (with the exception of apps that have to run inside of the Desktop app) open fullscreen with no chrome around them. Each native app has 3 different formats: Full screen; minimal snapped; and maximum snapped.

When an app is full screen, it takes up the entire screen (duh!). Nothing else appears on the screen at all. You can bring up context menus for various actions by right-clicking (I’m not sure what the multitouch gesture is). You can then “snap” an app to the left or right of your screen. When an app is first “snapped”, it appears in a minimal state. It only takes up about a quarter of your screen’s width, leaving the other three-quarters available for another app. Then, you can open a second app to show up in the larger portion of your screen.

Want to keep an eye on the weather while surfing the Web? Snap your weather app to the left or right, and open IE in the rest of your screen. Want to keep your email visible while you’re playing PinballFX? Snap the Mail app to your screen and open up the game you want to play. If you get an important email while you’re in the middle of your game, you can either handle the email message in it’s minimal state, or you can double click the divider bar to maximize the Mail app (snapping your other active app to the other side of your screen).

It’s a Drag

The Windows 8 interface may not be immediately usable to people that are entrenched in the classic concept of desktop management, but it is extremely simple to pick up once you play with it for a few minutes; and I imagine it is even more simple for people that have never used a computer before.

A few tips can help get you started, though:

  1. Putting your mouse (or finger) in any corner of the screen will bring up some options for you.
    The bottom left corner of the screen reveals the first of two basic app switchers. Whenever you’re inside of an app, clicking the bottom left corner of the screen will take you back to the Start screen. If you’re on the Start screen, clicking the bottom left corner will bring you back to your most recent app.
    The top left corner of the screen will bring up the second of the basic app switchers. Clicking once will take you to the app you were using before your current app. If you don’t move your mouse away, each subsequent click will take you further back in the history of your apps.
    If you place your mouse in either left corner of the screen, then slide your pointer up or down, you’ll reveal the new iteration of the “taskbar”. Each app you currently have open will be represented by a thumbnail showing the current state of that app. Clicking on any of those apps in the taskbar will switch to that app. Right-clicking on any of those apps will bring up three options: Snap Left; Snap Right (both of which will set the app in the minimal snapped position on the appropriate side of the screen); or Close (to terminate the app).
    The top and bottom right corners of the screen bring up your main context menu. That main context menu contains five icons: Settings; Devices; Start; Share; and Search. When you hover over that bar, you’ll also get a floating bar that contains the current time and your WiFi status (I haven’t seen it display any other icons, but it’s entirely possible that it does). Settings will present you with a few settings you can adjust for the current app. Devices brings up a list of the related hardware items you have installed on your computer (mostly printers, as far as I can tell). Start will take you back to the Start screen (or, if you’re on the Start screen, it will take you back to the previous app you were using). Share brings up a list of apps that might allow you to share something in your current app. For instance, if you’re viewing a blog post, and you want to email it to a friend, you would click “Share”, then choose “Mail” and send it off to someone. I would imagine there will eventually be integration with various social networks, as well; but that’s not really there yet.
  2. Dragging apps around can be useful.
    If you place your mouse at the top of an active app, the cursor will turn into a little hand. You can then drag the app to the left or right to “snap” that app in place.
    If you drag the app all the way to the bottom of the screen, that will terminate the app for you.
    If you’re on the start screen, you can drag your tiles around the screen to reposition them.
  3. Right-clicking brings up lots of options.
    Each app has its own separate context menu that appears when you right-click somewhere inside. Even within the apps, if they’re snapped they’ll have different context menus than they will if you right-click while they’re maximized. Then, in most apps, right-clicking on a specific item within the app will bring up another context menu.
    For instance, in IE, if you right-click in a general area, you’ll see thumbnails of your open tabs at the top of the screen, with the option to open a new tab, open a new “In Private” tab or “Clean Up Tabs”. At the bottom of that same screen, you’ll see the address bar with a few extra options. You can click the “Back” or “Forward” button or you can reload the page. You also have an icon that looks like a thumbtack, which allows you to “pin” the current Web page to your Start screen (making it possible to open the Web page as though it’s an app), and you have a wrench icon that currently brings up the options to “Find in Page” or “View on the desktop” (which opens the Desktop version of IE10, allowing you to browse the page in a more traditional manner).
    When you’re in the Mail app while it’s “snapped”, you get a few options: Mark Read (if there are any unread messages selected), Mark Unread (if there are any read messages selected) and Sync (to actively re-sync the current account). If the app is maximized (or at full screen), you get a few more options. You then have the option to move selected messages, view your list of folders, switch to a different email account and more.
    If you right-click on an app tile in the Start screen, you also get a few options. Which options you see depends entirely on which app is selected. Some apps allow you to expand the tile to double-width (or contract it to standard width if it’s already double-width), some allow you to view where the app (or shortcut) is stored on your hard drive, some allow you to uninstall the app, etc. All apps allow you to “unpin” them, so they no longer show on the Start screen. If you right-click on the Start screen itself (without selecting an app), you’ll get the option to view all of your apps (which then lets you pin the apps).

Lock It Up

Windows 8 implements a really nice lock screen, very similar to the one Windows Phone. When your display turns itself off and the lock screen activates, you get to see whatever photo you’ve set as your lock screen, along with the current time and a bunch of icons for your notifications. If you have new email messages, you’ll see an indicator telling you how many. If you have upcoming appointments on your calendar, you’ll see those. Within Windows 8 (unlike the current version of Windows Phone), you can easily change which apps show indicator icons on your lock screen.

The lock screen can display notifications from up to 7 different apps. In addition, you can set one app to show “detailed” information on the lock screen (by default, this is your calendar app).

One other major improvement (at least, I’ve not noticed this feature in previous versions of Windows; it’s entirely possible it’s there) is the fact that you can switch between user accounts even when the computer is locked under another account. I have my computer set up now so that my account is tied into my Live account, which requires my Live password in order to unlock the computer. I also have a separate user account set up for my wife, which doesn’t require a password. If I’ve been using the computer and let it lock automatically, she simply has to slide the lock screen up, then click the “Back” button when it asks for my password. She then gets the option to sign into her account or to try signing into my account.

While the computer’s not locked, if you’re on the Start screen, your username appears in the top right corner. You can click on that to logout of your account, or to switch to another account on the computer.

X Marks the Spot

Windows 8 (much like Windows Phone) includes integrated Xbox Live support. There are a handful of Xbox Live games already available (so you can earn achievements in games you play on your desktop), the Xbox Companion app is available, and there is an Xbox app. The Xbox app lets you view your friends’ statuses, view available Xbox games and even purchase downloadable content for your Xbox (Games on Demand, Xbox Arcade, etc.).

The Kitchen Sync

Just about everything in Windows 8 ties into your Windows Live (Hotmail, Zune, Xbox, etc.) account. All of your native settings can be synced with your Live account, allowing you to sync various settings between computers. You can change how items are synced on your computer by moving your pointer to the top or bottom right corner of the screen, clicking “Settings”, then clicking “More PC Settings”. Then, click the “Sync Your Settings” tab and make the changes you want to make.

How Do I…?

I’ve seen a lot of people ask questions about how to perform seemingly simple tasks. Here are the answers to the questions I’ve seen:

  1. How do I shut down or restart the computer?
    Place your cursor in the top or bottom right corner and click the “Settings” icon. One of the options in that Settings menu is “Power”. Clicking the “Power” option will let you put your computer to “Sleep”, Shut Down your computer or Restart your computer.
  2. How do I close an app?
    While a lot of people will never find it necessary to close an app, sometimes you just want to clean things up (or, maybe, especially while it’s still in preview mode, you’ll get an app that misbehaves and you need to close it out and try to start it again). There are two ways to close an app. One option is to place your cursor in the top or bottom left corner of the screen and slide your pointer up or down the side of the screen. Right-click on the app you want to close and choose “Close” from the context menu. Your other option is to place your cursor at the top of the app while it’s active, then click and drag it all the way down to the bottom of your screen. When you push it off the bottom of your screen, that will close the app.
  3. How do I get rid of the Start screen and go back to a classic Windows interface?
    Uninstall Windows 8 and install Windows 7 instead. Seriously, though, I’ve seen articles that claim there was a registry hack you could make to do this; but I have no idea why you would want to. If you want the classic Windows interface, stick with a classic version of Windows. If you want to use Windows 8, use Windows 8. In Windows 8, the classic Windows interface is simply an app inside of the operating system.

If It Works on Windows 7, It Works on Windows 8

The Desktop app within Windows 8 is basically Windows 7. All of the programs you have installed on Windows 7 should work just fine in Windows 8. As a test, I started by installing Office 2010 and Adobe CS4. Both suites installed just fine and work the same as they do on Windows 7.

What’s Missing From Windows 8?

As much as I would love to move to Windows 8 as my primary operating system right now, there are still a few apps and features missing that are keeping me from doing so. Some of these may be incidental to many people, but their absence is frustrating enough to me to stop me from switching.

  1. No Twitter
    There’s no Twitter integration, yet. There is no Twitter app (official or unofficial). With the way the Windows 8 interface is designed, and with as much as I rely on Twitter, I will need a Twitter app that’s capable of popping up some sort of notifications (or at least one that can be snapped properly).
  2. No Zune Support
    At the moment, the Music and Videos apps don’t support any DRM’d content, including content you purchased through the Zune marketplace. If this wasn’t bad enough, there is also no support built into Windows 8 to sync your Zune device or your Windows Phone. As far as I can tell, the only way to do this, so far, is to install the Zune client within the Desktop app.
  3. My VPN Doesn’t Work
    I have no idea where the issue is with this, but the Cisco AnyConnect VPN client doesn’t work for me on Windows 8. It’s entirely possible that this is a result of incorrect settings on my computer, but with Windows 8 still being so new, it’s tough to find support for the issue. I can’t access my servers at work without being on VPN, so this one is absolutely necessary for me to get working.

Other Frustrations

There are a handful of other issues that bother me about Windows 8, but I’d most likely switch over even if these weren’t fixed right away.

  1. The Mail app doesn’t support custom IMAP/POP configurations. You can only set up Google, Hotmail or Exchange accounts.
  2. The Mail app doesn’t have a conversation view (this was a really nice feature that was added to the Mango version of the Mail app on Windows Phone).
  3. Many apps require a Live ID. My wife has no need for a Live account, so she’s never gotten one. Unfortunately, that means she can’t use the native Mail app, the native Calendar app, the native People app, or a host of other apps.
  4. Games could potentially start crowding the Start screen really easily. On Windows Phone 7, all games are housed within the Xbox Live app, keeping them from crowding your list of general apps. Unfortunately, on Windows 8, each game gets its own tile on your Start screen. Sure, I could unpin the games, but then I’d probably never play them. I’d like to see them all organized together like they are on Windows Phone.
  5. The Music app is virtually unusable for people with large collections. Right now, there are three different views in the Music app: Albums (a list of all of the albums you have on your computer), Artists (a list of each artist you have in your music collection) and Songs (a list of all of the songs you have in your collection). Ideally, I would click on the Artists tab, then select an artist to see a list of that artist’s albums. However, the way the Music app works now, when you click on an artist, you simply see a list of the 10 most recent songs you’ve played by that artist. In order to view a list of that artist’s albums, you have to click on the artist’s name, then click “Artist Details”, then scroll to the right to see the albums in your collection. If you scroll too far to the right, you’ll see a list of the albums that are available in the Marketplace from that artist.
    The Music app also seems to be extremely slow; almost as though it’s downloading all of the information about my collection from the Internet, instead of loading it from some local location. Sometimes it can take minutes to load the list of the music in my collection.

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